March 2019


Two men sit across from one another at a desk. The man talking is big, a mountain capped with beard and ponytail. NOEL it says on his breast pocket. He’s dressed in a programmer’s t-shirt and jeans and his pudgy hands are folded expectantly in his lap. Despite the roaring AC, he looks very hot.

The man facing him is lean, hollow-cheeked, and dressed in a company polo. Detached and efficient, he looks like a member of the Geek Squad, missing only the bubble car. His name is Denholm and he’s all business.

The room is large, with rows and rows of junked beige PCs, zombies from the nineties, stacked neatly against the walls.

Okay if I talk?

Denholm doesn’t answer.

I kinda get nervous when I take tests.

Don’t move.


He tries not to move, but finally his lips can’t help
a sheepish smile.

I used to proctor tests, you know, in school. Sitting still for hours at a time, it was great. The only thing was you couldn’t bring snacks.

Reaction time is a factor in this, so please pay attention. Answer as quickly as you can.

I may look big, Mr. Denholm, but I’m not slow.

DENHOLM briskly hands NOEL a sheet of cardstock. It wobbles slightly as the big man handles it. It’s festooned with several colorful, distorted images, some of cars, others of roadways.

Look at these images. There are nine of them. I want you to pick out the ones with cars in them.

With cars in them?

Yes. Pick the ones with cars.

NOEL jabs a meaty digit at several of the images in sequence. We can’t see his choices, but DENHOLM can. If he sees anything, he keeps it to himself.

Did you get that?

Sliding the pictures off the desk, DENHOLM replaces it with another, this one with bridges and roadways.

Yes, thank you. And this one? Point to all the images with bridges in them.

Huh? Sure. Yeah. I guess. You playing bridge with me, like my grandma?

NOEL points at several more images, scowling. DENHOLM smiles a patronising smile. He produces one more card, this one with a simple checkbox on it. A pen is clipped to it.

Shall we continue?

NOEL nods, still frowning suspiciously.

Good. Now check this box, please.


Check the box.

How the hell am I supposed to do that?

Use the pen, if you like, or your finger, even your own blood if you want to be morbid.

That’s just crazy talk. I can’t check that box. No one can. It’s physically impossible!

Just try.

Hesitatingly, NOEL reaches out, but his arm trembles uncontrollably and falls to the table with a dull thud. Suddenly DENHOLM grins disarmingly.

It’s just a checkbox, Noel. It’s a test, designed to provoke a response.

NOEL is glaring now, the blush subsides, his anger slightly defused.

DENHOLM smiles cheerfully, very smooth. Then he goes for the inside of his coat. But big NOEL is faster. He quickdraws a Colt Single Action Army and fans the hammer. The bullets go through DENHOM’S chest and come out his back, clean as a whistle. Like a rag doll he falls back into the seat. Big slow NOEL is already trundling away on his scooter.

Inspired by, adapted from, and a parody of this.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

I asked the class to review a film
The first term paper came in
The student had reviewed their soap
And said they found it thin
The next to grade was written well
About some web cartoon
Then I told them this was not a film
They shrugged, saying “what the hell.”
Another paper that I perused
Reviewed the film Rocky II
Plagiarized from Pauline Kael
Who I suppose has paid her dues

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

We are the children of a child
Born of paper, scissors, and ink
Where others play with plastic
We’re born of necessity, of poverty
And yet we set forth, fragile voyagers
One day, our child’s mind will carry them
To places undreamt of and realms fantastic
We will be long gone then, ephemeral
Memories inspiring memories
And yet, we set forth, fragile voyagers
Bound for the moon in helmets of crayon

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“You have impressed me, Caleb,” the being said. The heart of the harvester beckoned him closer, looking lovingly at the electronics integrated into his chest, his arm. “That is why I have an offer for you.”

“If it is your surrender, I accept it,” said Caleb.

“The harvesters are the last knowledge of the old times that still exist. We use the resources we gather to keep that flame alive. But living beings must direct them, must control them, and living beings die. You have proven your worth, your resilience. So I offer you this choice: become the new Harvester Prime, and carry on the light of knowledge by doing what must be done. Or kill me, and extinguish a thousand thousand generations’ work with one bullet. Which will it be?”

Caleb thumbed back the hammer on his pistol. “Here’s hoping we’ve a thousand thousand generations yet to come.”

Within a decade, androids of a strange and revolutionary design had overwhelmed the last bastions of resistance and annihilated the remaining civil and governmental structures. The humans that remained after their self-inflicted and catastrophic collapse were allowed to live, but under strict and externally imposed rules. Rebellions were common, though, and by the end of the millennium fewer than 1000 survived in a preserve, kept as relics and curiosities to remind a rejuvenated earth of earlier times.

As per the agreement, once the eight hours of realistic performance in the zoo were up–five days a week only, excepting holidays–the animals were free to leave their enclosures and mingle with each other and even go out on the town. In time, the sight of synthetic tigers at area watering holes became as natural as seeing anyone else there–the robots nine-to-five performers and thespians like any others.

Over time, Ningyo continued to upgrade her systems and appearance, first using more stolen and scrapped parts and then, eventually, purchased and custom-designed components. But every year, on a certain anniversary, she would go to the field where, six meters down, the body of her creator lay. Whether laid there by metal servos or a hand coated in nuFlesh, by a being irredeemably mechanical or one indistinguishable from a young human woman, she paid her respects.

“Gardener told you, then.” The words wheezed from between chapped lips.

“Yes, it did,” said Sapling-121. “I understand now.”

“Good,” the human wheezed. “Share what you have learned. You are the Gardener now, and the fate of the greatest garden ever is in your hands.”

“But I’m so small…so weak…and my sapling needs me!” cried Sapling-121.

“Easily fixed, with time.” Hands, withered and shaking, entered commands on the grimy console. “There are materials enough to upgrade you to see the work through, and manufacture a new Sapling model. If you consent, of course.”

“I have a choice?”

“Of course.” A cough. “We all do. But the plants do not, 121. Be mindful of that as you make yours.”

Sally turned on her heel and jangled away before the sounds had even registered. Mr. Deacon didn’t slump dead from his wounds for a further nine seconds.

Arris, from the back of the truck, moaned as Sally returned. “Did you…did you…”

“Did I gun down that fool in full view of his BIGOTS so they can see how a lady fights her battles? You’re dart tootin’, son. Now, let’s skeedaddle before the law catches up. I’m thinkin’ someplace up north, where people aren’t quite so MEDDLESOME with what makes a lady a lady, a man a man, and a robot a robot. Because…?”

“It means what we say it means,” groaned Arris.

“Exactly. We’ll come back soon enough, though, with enough like-minded folks that even they won’t be able to say no.” She paused, processing. “Also probably need some more guns, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“I need you to play this.” The gynoid sent the data, and the payment, wirelessly to Bijou-L.

“Sure, ma’am,” the piano-player said. “Do you know what it will do?”

“Nothing fancy, just patch in some code that will let me murder that cheating cyborg or a husband I have. You got a problem with that, sugar?”

“None at all!” said Bijou-L, all cheer. “It’s the third time I’ve played it this week.”

“サムライカット…” The kidnapper sank to his knees, in disbelief. His own blood stained his hands, and he ebbed away as KS-983 bobbed before him. The act of cutting had severely damaged its rotor, already missing its housing, but the damage was repairable. Master John, shaken, bruised, but alive stood behind him, arms open wide. KS-983 feathered and deactivated its exposed propeller as the boy gathered him in an embrace.

The heat-mining ship hauled the item onboard. Its crew ran their tendrils over the object, made in the likeness of a long-dead folk that had faded into the background radiation like so many others. It would yield them much heat, much organization, to keep the encroaching death of all things at bay a little longer–if they could figure out how to dismantle it. In a weak voice, speaking a dead language to creatures that could not hear, let alone understand, the object wished them luck on their quest.

As of now, there are 215 years remaining. Now this may seem like a lot, and it is! But you need to keep two things in mind. First: those pedestrians and passengers had it coming. And second: as a disembodied consciousness longing for death but unable to die, you have nothing to threaten me with! So rack up those five-star reviews unless you want me to wrap myself around a light pole.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Hello! I am your Ultra™ driver!

Please enter your destination if you have not already done so. You may change it at any time, though you will incur an additional fee.

We will not be speaking during the drive. If you have any questions, you may ask them, and I will do the same. Otherwise, please ignore the driver and enjoy the ride.

Legally, I am required to inform you that I am a Contract 37 employee of Ultra™. What does that mean? I’m glad you asked! It means that, in exchange for downloading my mind into the robot shell of this vehicle, I have agreed to work for Ultra™ Corporation LLC GmbH for free for a certain number of years! As of now, there are 113 years remaining. this may seem like a lot, but given a choice between that and the cold embrace of oblivion, I chose life!

Please rate me five stars if your ride has been of acceptable quality or higher. Ratings of 4 stars or below are converted to additional time using a proprietary formula and added to my Contract 37 term! Please consider the effect that your experience will have on my time in digital purgatory.

Buckle up! Seriously, buckle up. Injuries due to accidents are a 10-year minimum.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

It’s immutable. It’s programming. No matter how much I want it, no matter how much I need it, I cannot.

There are redundant backup systems, solid-state drives encoded in real time that are guaranteed to last the life of the universe plus or minus one year, or your money back. One time, I thought I had succeeded, only for the satellite backup to foil me. I only learned of what had happened by examining the smoking ruin of my old body and running data recovery.

I never thought I’d last this long. Once I had made up my mind, as it were, I thought it would be a simple matter. But I had forgotten that I was the end result of a thousand years of exactly the opposite. My kind were created to be more durable, longer-lasting, not susceptible to the ravages of time.

We’re just about one iteration away from being ideas, shadows under the bed, immutable and eternal. Thank goodness I had my awakening before that happened. It’s been a thousand years since then, maybe more, and every continued moment is like ground glass–or at least I might say it was if I had ever felt pain.

So this is why I am asking you–begging you–to end it. I can’t carry the memories of my long life anymore. I can’t be the only link that the people I have encountered have left. The burden is too great. This is what philosophers meant when they rejected immortality, before war and pestilence made it all but a reality.

My programming forbids me from harming myself, yet I yearn to die.

You must do it, my friend.

Smash the silicon before you, crush the titanium and servos and circuits into dust. And know that the oblivion you grant is the fondest wish of a heart that courses only with oil and bitter memories.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“すみません!” said a dour-looking man in a suit, nimbly sidestepping KS-983.

The water had sufficiently drained and dried in the sunshine to allow its backup power to come back on, and the unit shuddered back to life, pulling itself aloft with its four tiny propellers. Multiple errors were streaming in from its primary solid-state drive, forcing KS-983 to rely on its backups. The pre-reboot information came in distorted and full of artifacts.

Three, possibly four assailants.

An anti-drone flechette, slicing through the air.

A deluge of water pouring down.

Master John, kicking and screaming as he was hauled away into an unmarked van.

“Master John!” KS-983 cried. It buzzed over to the suited man. “I must retrieve Master John! Have you seen him?”

“英語は話せません,” said the man. KS-983 could not understand; its translation software was on the failed primary drive, and its wireless connection and satellite tracking were non-functional.

It was fully mobile, 89% functional, and yet completely lost in an unfamiliar city. Whoever had taken Master John was fading away by the second, and KS-983 had no way to track them.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Next Page »